July 31, 2012
Review: Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra – ‘Antibalas’
In the late ’00s, a resurgence of afro-beat – through the Gabriel-esque plundering of Vampire Weekend, Dirty Projectors et al – stretched no further than twee incorporations of Highlife guitar styles into hipster indie. Others, such as The Very Best, took a different approach, fusing contemporary sounds from the continent into a new mix of pan-global electro pop. Antibalas went 10 steps beyond, however, their musical M.O. stretching all the way back to the ’60s/’70s heyday of the West African style largely wrestled into the world’s eye by the late and legendary Fela Kuti.
The multi-legged Brooklyn collective started life around 1998, and have since released several albums of good, faithful and pitch-perfect pastiche through labels like Ninja Tune and Daptone (the group share both members and a raison d’être with The Dap Kings), showing both a clear understanding and a healthy respect for where this stuff comes from while tweaking the sound into the 21st century. Latest album Antibalas sees no drastic change of pace, with the syncopated rhythms, clipped guitar lines and thick horns of Kuti’s Africa 70 band honoured loyally through six lengthy tracks of loping afro-beat.
Opener ‘Dirty Money’, featuring a winding keyboard break from Victor Axelrod – better known for his work as neo-dub producer Ticklah – snakes through a fluctuating arrangement before frontman Amayo enters to perform a bit of classic call-and-response with his backing singers.
‘The Ratcatcher’ follows a similar trajectory – a tale of man who will deal with any animal besides the prolific rodent playing out over classic two-part guitar interplay and explosive horns – while ‘Ìbèjì’ brings a change of pace, slowing the syncopated burst down to walking speed to include a rasping trumpet solo from Jordan McLean.
The loose introduction to highlight ‘Sáré Kon Kon’ suddenly explodes into a flurrying riot of horns and percussion, Amayo’s lyrics roughly, and aptly, translating as “we’re running, we’re running, we don’t know where we’re going, but everybody’s running” – a strong closer to a strong album.
Great compilations from labels like Strut Records and Evolver have done a lot to highlight the roots of West African funk, soul and afro-beat in recent years, but in the field of second-wave afro-beat, Antibalas cannont be touched – indeed, their chosen name translates from Spanish as ‘bulletproof’ – and this album is perhaps the clearest distillation of the their manifesto to date. Maybe this partly explains the decision to self-title their fifth release a decade-and-a-half into their career.
Read this review in context over at THE 405